note: due to recent State Department travel advisories for Machu Picchu, we are postponing this trip till further notice. everyone’s safety is my primary responsibility. It shouldn’t be too long… -c.s.
NEXT MAGICAL JOURNEY TO PERU-
PLEASE COME BACK SOON FOR DETAILS…
JOURNALOGUE- MY FIRST TRIP TO PERU AS A GROUP LEADER:
“Seeing Myself in the Faces of all Things”:
for inquiries & information: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are someone who likes to “channel surf” life for “gems among the rubble”, you may want to scan the pictures below on your way down to the epilogue. The epilogue is my conclusion about what was a life-changing journey for me. For those of you who like to look out the window of the bus, I have written a relatively condensed “journalogue” of my first group trip to peru that occurred between May 1st and May 10th of 2012. For those of you curious as to whether or not it is your time to see Peru, what will follow could be quite useful in determining if my particular type of trip is appropriate for you at this time. There will be more such trips in the future. And just a note to thank several of the group members for contributing some of the pictures that appear below.
DAY ONE: IT ALL GETS REAL
The pilot announces that we are beginning our descent into Lima. I’m standing outside the restroom and am suddenly gripped by a moment of genuine panic. It feels like the plane took a huge and sudden dip. I hear that voice in my head say, “In a few moments, we are going to land, and this is really going to happen, and I have no idea what the f&%k i’m doing.” Well, i had a strong gut feeling to create this trip. I went for it. I jumped off the ledge of faithlessness a long time ago. All I can do at this point is to take a deep breath and let the plane fall to the ground.
For some reason, flights from the US into Lima arrive late at night. So tourists like us end up being driven (by what appear to be a cabs), very late at night (through what appear to be fairly shady neighborhoods) to get to their hotels (or at least some hotel). The point is, the late international flight arrivals force one to spend the night in Lima. On my previous trip, I arrived in Lima after midnight. I was taken by what was supposed to be a taxi to what was supposed to be my hotel about 20 minutes from the airport. In spite of the fact that i had given the driver the name and address of the hotel I wanted to stay in, he took me to what he said was a hotel “of the same owner”. I was delivered to a seedy hotel in a seedy dark neighborhood in a city i was unfamiliar with, in a state of post-long-flight-disorientation. Honestly, it was a night I wasn’t sure I would survive. It felt surreal, like the beginning of a movie i didn’t want to be in, much less watch. When I got into my room, I barricaded the door with a chair and called home to give them the name of the place I was staying in case i was never heard from again. Note: the next morning, my taxi ride to the airport was under three (yes 3) minutes.
As we drive 45 minutes to get to Miraflores, I keep wondering when the slums are going to end. All due respect to the Peruvian people and the residents of Lima, I have never had a good feeling being driven through this city. The welcome Miraflores is relatively nice, but you have to work a bit to get there. Anyway, this time, because the hotel was prearranged in a nice neighborhood, the necessary stopover didn’t feel life-threatening.
DAY TWO: HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING
Meeting the group at breakfast, I find them sweet, cheerful, quite pleasant. Seven new arrivals, all women, ranging from the age of 47 to 71. They are all eager to tell me their stories of how their plane was delayed for four hours, how they got in at 2:30 AM, how they couldn’t find their driver nor their driver find them, how they had to hire their own minivan and pay $100 to get to the hotel, and of course how I needed to cover that cost, please. No big deal, I’m happy to see that they survived. (Our driver charged us $20).
The flight to Cusco is pleasant. The Peruvian airlines are clean and efficient and the mood feels bright and cheerful. The flight into the Andes is breathtaking, and landing in Cusco, which is nestled at a cozy ten and a half thousand feet, is exciting and a somewhat exotic. Getting off the plane, the bathroom lines in the women’s room are out the door. 30 minutes later, bladders are empty, so we claim our luggage, buy cans of pure oxygen for the altitude, find our driver, enter the bus, and are ready to go. It would happen that teachers in Cusco are on strike, so there are demonstrations in the streets with police and army everywhere. 30 seconds out of the airport and we already have stories to write home about complete with photo ops. 45 minutes later we are free of Cusco and winding our way through the mountains toward the Sacred Valley. One of the girls is motion sick, and another can’t find her passport. Fortunately, the later was sitting on it, and unfortunately the former was about to set the tone for how she would feel during most of the trip. Our guide, Patricia, wastes no time grabbing the mic and telling us about Peruvian culture. Right out of the box, i’m already having a Nat Geo moment. It’s all so colorful and amazing to me. I feel like we’re in the South American section of the Epcot Center. The short, round Peruvian ladies with their tall hats with their brightly colored woven ponchos strapping everything from firewood to babies on their backs, the rolling hillsides revealing massive mountains, and the corn and potato fields everywhere with families harvesting and lighting fires, all look quite surreal to me right now.
Sometime later (it’s hard to tell time at this point), the bus stops for a photo op and it’s my turn to pee. Its rather flat out here except for a mud hut about 50 yards from the bus. No one seems to be in a hurry, so I choose that as my privacy option. From the moment I sequester myself behind the mud wall, I detect a most distinct audible silence. It’s like the silence after a snowfall except more profound and more ethereal. I don’t know what this silence is, but I do know that it resonates as deeply as a church bell down into the core of me. I make some attempt to share this revelation with the group, but my “mystical pee break” comes off as ironic and comical.
Soon we are “tourists” exiting the bus onto a small dirt parking lot in a tiny village whose well-worn narrow dirt path leads us to the workshop of the “Weavers of Chincheros”. I’m a little dizzy in my dream right now as I watch a well-rehearsed, well-orchestrated presentation on how alpaca is spun on small spools by wrinkled hands of short ladies dressed in very colorful outfits and flat round hats. I watch them grind roots (or vegetables) (or something), boil it and dip the yarn into it. I watch it come out purple. Then I hear something about 11 year old (or younger) urine (the only kind that can be used), and how it turns the wool orange, or something like that. This might be a bit too much information as i imagine buying a wool hat that i will always know has been marinated in “kid-piss”. I’ve only been off the plane for two hours and already “urine” has become a predominant theme. After the presentation, there is a strong suggestion that we “buy stuff”. And of course being jet-lagged and delirious and innocent and excited, we do. Patricia neglects to tell us that we can find the exact same things in any common market in 20 other places during the trip for half the price. Still, it’s all quite reasonably priced, and supports these weavers and their families.
Still delirious from the sales pitch and the subsequent feeding frenzy, we are back on the bus and headed for Ollantaytambo, one of the noted Peruvian archaeological sites. Once again: bus stop, dirt parking lot, long walk. This time we stop within the doorway of a great stone wall that opens up to a steep hillside with dozens of terraces and endless steps. I’m not remembering much of what Patricia says, something about a stopover point for travelers, and I just keep looking at all those steps wondering if, at this altitude, I’m capable of pushing myself to the top. I do take a moment to notice the classic Inca stonework with the impeccable mortar-less joints, all surrounded by grey stone cliffs covered in primordial vines and succulents. Climb, climb, climb… stop to catch my breath, stop to catch a view… climb, climb, climb… it’s quite beautiful up here, and I, with my group-leader-sense-of-responsibility, have pushed myself successfully to the highest point midway between the over-achievers and the chill folk..
The sun sets over the village of Ollantaytambo, and we’re back in the bus before the rapid emergence of nightfall. The place we are delivered to an hour later, the little sanctuary where we will spend the next three days, whose name I still can’t pronounce, is sequestered behind a very tall wall that separates Paradise from the reality of a dusty little village street. This is a good way to start the trip. The reality of “out there” is almost too much right away. I think I’ll take it in small doses for now.
As if we haven’t had enough activity for one day*, I had arranged for a shaman to conduct an “Opening Ceremony” to bless and initiate the trip. This is an opportunity to not only be blessed by a shaman, but to set our individual and collective intentions for the trip ahead. He and his wife are round and humble he performs his blessing in Quechua, the indigenous language of the area, which sounds beautiful, exotic, percussive and reverent. He creates what’s called a “Dispacho” which is a sort of “pie”, a circular collage that contains very disparate symbolic elements which are alternately yummie and edible, and inedible and revolting. Each component represents the sun, the clouds, the sacred Mother Earth (“Mama Pacha”), different things for different energies and different qualities, (including llama fetus), all sprinkled with sugar and glued together with llama fat, blessed and wrapped ever so carefully, then taken outside to a ceremonial fire where the blessing is offered. All in all, this is quite cool. I feel blessed, excited about the trip ahead, and ready for bed.
*note: when i was in the process of planning this trip, i was apprehensive about leaving too much “dead space” in our schedule. in retrospect, i understand that there is no “down time” when you’re inspired, and “space” is required for anything to grow.
DAY THREE: DOWN TIME IN THE HIGH COUNTRY
Our second day in the Sacred Valley is a well-needed and well-deserved day of rest. I initiate it with an opening talk containing some thematic content and some intentions for the trip. I’m not sure if people really want to hear any of this, so I keep it brief. I tell everyone that we are now a “family”, here to respect and support each other. I emphasize the need to minimize any judgment or criticism they may have toward one another. I speak about the inner journey the parallel outer journey, how all of us have created a rare opportunity to experience ourselves in new ways, and what a divine gift this opportunity is. I then talk about something I call “the inner dancer” which is a metaphor for the authentic self that emerges from a state of silence. We all get still, take a few breaths, and I put on my new CD “Maya” as we stretch and dance for an hour.
After lunch, I offer a photography “primer” in which I speak about the art of photography as it informs our way of seeing. (The group photographer is the only one who doesn’t come to this. I find that amusing.) I’m quickly beginning to understand that when it comes to my talking on this trip, brevity is my greatest asset. I remind myself that this trip was never about me. It’s about everyone’s experience and how every person, or “archetype” (as I already call them) reflects and illuminates aspects of ourselves.
After a fresh and healthy dinner, I suggest a “release ceremony” in which each person is to offer something to the fire as a symbolic release from the past. I cut my hair in the afternoon and made a tidy little package of it. (note: At first I was going to shave my head with my beard trimmer, but given a bit of time to reflect, it seemed a bit histrionic, so i gave myself a manageable trim.) The home-made ceremony turns out to be fun and educational for me. I offer a few words regarding letting go of the past and welcoming the present. One by one, we approach the fire and have our “moment of release” with support from the others. One of our group members sings a sacred blessing in Hawaiian and another delivers “shaktipot” as she rubs each of our foreheads with sacred ashes that she say “are blessed by a true master in India”. One woman suggested a sing-along, and with visions of Kumbaya around the campfire I had to make an executive decision to shut the ceremony down.
DAY FOUR: WATERPARK
Today I’ve offered the option of river rafting and all but three members are up for it. The guide and driver are punctual, 9 AM sharp, and we are in the bus and on our way to another adventure before the taste of coca tea it is even off our tongues. The warm golden morning light makes the ever changing view of the sacred Valley out the windows of the van look extra magical, as if sprinkled with golden fairy dust. Corn season is over and it is now amaranth making its presence known in large tracts of rich burgundy. I’m still having a hard time believing how peaceful and beautiful this landscape is. Whatever you do, please don’t wake me up! This dream is gently rocking my world. The road winds parallel with the Urubamba River and after a couple of hours of this pleasant lulling, the van pulls onto a green patch of land where rafts, helmets, wet suits, oars, life vests and two more guides welcome us. After suiting us all up, Ephraim, our primary guide, delivers a rather thorough lecture on safety and technique. I’m impressed. For the most part, the safety of the group rests on my shoulders and I feel very confident with these guys. The ride turns out to be a blast- rough enough to be fun, wet enough to be refreshing, enough steady participation to keep us engaged, and remarkably beautiful with ever-shifting, dreamy, magical topography. Two hours go by all too fast, and a delightful, healthy lunch awaits us at its conclusion. Maybe it’s because the light has shifted or maybe it’s because the rafting trip has completely refreshed my senses, but the afternoon bus ride looks quite different from the morning one.
That night we all share stories- ours of the river, and the other three members of an inspiring ceramic artist that they discovered. We call it an early night in anticipation of tomorrow morning’s San Pedro ceremony.
DAY FIVE: THE GATES OF HEAVEN OPEN
Kucho, the most well-known shaman in Peru, will be presiding over our cactus juice swilling inner journeys. He arrives late, and what the heck, he’s a shaman, he can do that. Right? He resides in a different zone. Upstairs, at the retreat center, there is a very tidy meditation/yoga room. In anticipation of our ceremony, they have prepared soft yoga mats and pillows for each of the seven of us that will be partaking. There are also plastic bags next to each pillow in the event that anyone wants to barf up their belief system. Kucho is nothing like what you’d expect from Peru’s most revered shaman. He is short. Very short. And as humble and down-to-earth-looking-and-feeling as any of the peasant farmers we saw in the corn fields. He speaks rather softly with a thick Peruvian accent. His intelligibility is further obscured the by two large wads of coca leaves that he packs perpetually into each cheek like a baseball coach. He speaks reverently and intelligently about “Wachuma”. “She is the medicine of the mountain” he says. He informs us that the medicine can connect us to higher dimensions, higher frequencies, and to our DNA. He says that the “presence” of the medicine will be available for 3 to 5 days following the ceremony. He also says that some of the effects are permanent. He tells us to stay awake and alert and to stay vigilant to our own experience and not engage with anyone else. His presentation is casual and at the same time very professional. One by one, each participant approaches the “altar” that he has set up in front of where he sits, and drinks the slimy bitter goo that represents millennia of sacred spiritual tradition. Wachuma offers yet one more opportunity to connect with that “other place”. After what feels like an hour, I’m thinking that this stuff creeps up rather slowly. After what feels like two more hours, I’m thinking that maybe San Pedro is a rather subtle fellow, or maybe things are winding down before they ever really started. Am i missing something? Did i drink enough? Kucho suggests that we not leave the room except to use the restroom, and it is now my time. I find that standing up and walking feel surprisingly challenging. The same goes for descending the stairs and navigating my way into the restroom. While in there, I look in the mirror and I can see from my eyes that I’m severely altered. It’s then I realize that the dosage is plenty adequate and it’s up to me to become more receptive to whatever San Pedro might have to offer. This is something i learned in giving my workshops: lower the “noise” threshold to behold the exquisite messages that arise when my mind gets out of the way. On the way back from the bathroom I decide to get a “reality check” and look at the time. It’s 11:30, whatever THAT means! In the world of chronology, it means that two hours have gone by since we ingested this stuff. The six-hour ceremony that we were promised hasn’t even begun, yet just a few minutes ago I thought that it was almost over. I get back into my zone, and sit quiet, quieter than ever. I take a seat in the theater of my skull and start giving my attention to the screen behind my eyelids. All the while, Kucho is shaking his rattle or gently beating his tambourine to an amazingly incessant, steady-as-a-clock rhythm while chanting softly in mostly Quechua. He doesn’t stop, in fact, he won’t stop for 5 1/2 hours. I begin to understood what his primary role is here: he is ” holding space” for us and doing so masterfully. Back to my eyelids: as I quiet my expectations and realize that St. Peter is not going to do any of this work for me, I start experiencing visions. Not visuals. Not hallucinations. Something more internal and more ethereal. Something of a mythological, mystical landscape. A bit Avalonish” with beautiful soft images that are much too diaphanous to recall. Every so often, I open my eyes to check on the group. Except for one woman who looks like she’s being slowly electrocuted, everyone else looks a bit bored. But who knows what’s going on in their internal theater. Just like being in the raft with Efraim, I implicitly trust the safety and guidance of our group with Kucho driving this etheric chariot. Somewhere in what I would guess was the third or fourth hour, I experience something rather profound. When I’m not looking for anything, something about the notion of “St. Peter” comes to me. The symbolism: St. Peter presiding over the Gates of Heaven…San Pedro…The Gates of Heaven….What exactly are “The Gates of Heaven”? It’s now I receive a vision. It is rather soft and pastel-like. It isn’t in words and it isn’t in distinct visual images, but seems to saturate my grey matter in a pearlescent whisper of light. Within the context of the silence that i have surrendered my “self” to,” the whisper” is profound and resonant…and the soft-focus, pastel glitter landscape opens the gateway to pure light…and the pure light is the essence of all being…and the essence of all being is what I am made of. And the Gates of Heaven are suddenly inside of me and not outside as I had always preconceived. The entire trip to Peru is now happening inside of me, with focused intent and direct purpose (the nature of which i am not at all aware). I am now getting what I came here for, and I had no idea prior to this moment what that was. The poignancy of this simple connect brings me to soft tears and gentle sobbing. I don’t know why I’m crying and I don’t need to know. As I’d always suspected, God has no name, and permeates everything democratically. And the realization of holding a piece of this infinite treasure inside of me brings on more gentle tears. I am commanded by something deep in my soul to grab a pen and write. So write I do. Page after page of outspoken monologue ripping the face off of the pretense of existing within the context of my “story”, of any “story”. And i see that real life, true vitality, mindfulness, exist when we are courageous enough to drop the story. The “real” story is improvised and all I have to do to live in the vitality of true presence is to trust and surrender. That’s really all I will say about this experience except that Kucho was right- the medicine does linger and the transformation seems to be permanent.
After the ceremony, we all meet for lunch (though food isn’t a priority at this point) and i immediately notice that upon engaging in conversation, i feel more quick-witted and intuitive than usual. I can’t tell if I really am, or if my perception of my usual wit has just become more acute. What else i notice is that none of the San Pedro participants (including me) are sharing anything about their experience. Good.
I’m feeling shaky, yet blissful, as we leave our little walled-in sanctuary and head to Hanaq Pacha- my friend Rick’s family paradise tucked into a mountainside about an hour from where we were. I’ve known Rick for more than 20 years, and he’s still a wonder, a delight, and an enigma to me. He’s creative off-the-charts with anything he puts his hands on. I asked him once how he does it, and his reply was immediate and simple, “I just tap into to the conduit”. Rick’s one-of-a-kind-broke-the-mold mother started an orphanage near here many years ago. After her passing two years ago, Rick and his girlfriend Julie have been doing what they can to keep the orphanage afloat. When we arrive, Rick meets the bus with his gardener Elio and three handsome teenage boys from the orphanage. For me, this is a very happy day. I haven’t seen Rick in a year that I have missed my “brother from another mother”. The group seems excited to be here also. Soon, everyone is engaged in conversation with Rick and his girlfriend Julie. Tonight is our “concert/feast” in which Rick, a couple of the boys, and “yours truly”, will perform music while Julie expertly (chef that she is) prepares and serves a spread suited for royalty. Before I can even catch my breath, it is dinner time. The concert has begun and the wine bottles are uncorked and flowing. Julie delivers one dish after another as I watch amazed by her culinary skill, sheer stamina, and penchant for over-the-top things. One of the teenage boys is singing Peruvian folk songs, Rick is singing his original tunes, and while they take a break, I rather shyly sneak in a few of my own. One of our group members (that I have known for 30 years) is a seasoned performer, and with just a little encouragement, she breaks into several classics and soon everyone is singing and dancing in an air of true festivity. My vision of a celebration here has manifested beautifully.
DAY SIX: FROM PARADISE TO PLUSH
The next morning, everyone seems refreshed from sleeping in the wood-stove heated bungalows under cozy warm comforters. The sun seems unusually bright on this particular morning. The air feels unusually fresh. And I am once again reminded of why I love this place so much. The property is filled with flowers and an atmosphere of deep stillness and silence. This magical spot seems to hold a wider envelope than most for what i feel and who i am. At some point in the late golden morning, we endeavor to walk up to the waterfall. It’s quite a climb and the view of the valley is spectacular from here. Sitting in the waterfalls is refreshing and exhilarating, and provides yet one more sign of proof that we are truly in paradise.
It’s hard to leave Rick’s, but knowing I’ll see them at the end of the trip, and knowing that we are now headed for Machu Picchu softens the sting of departure. Another short bus ride, another short walk, and we are on the “Vista Dome”, a blue and yellow train with big windows, headed for Machu Picchu. Everyone seems excited, quite pleased with the last 24 hours. I’m happy too, and still milking the deep soft illuminated contours of San Pedro. The train ride is filled with sunlight, constant views of the river, and ever shifting spectacular panoramas of the Andes. Upon arriving at Aguas Calientes, the village that lies underneath Machu Picchu, we are told we are upgraded to what is considered the nicest hotel in town. Another sign of magic at work. Indeed, the luxurious rooms and a delicious dinner that are to follow are signs that the gods (or “Apus” as the Peruvians call them) approve.
But it doesn’t end there. There is a full moon tonight, we are just beneath the enchanting Machu Picchu, and I have arranged for a full-moon ceremony with Kucho. Let me not trivialize this event with repetitive adjectives and a blow-by-blow description of this beautiful ceremony. Kucho is as steadfast as the full moon on a clear night, and just being in his presence brings peace and a sense of well-being.
DAY SEVEN: THE SHAMAN SHINES ON MACHU PICCHU
For many in the group, “the moment” has arrived. We are about to get on the shuttle to Machu Picchu. My “moment” happened yesterday and anything beyond that is icing on the cake. The ride up to what is now a national park and one of the “Wonders of the World”, comprises a series of switchbacks on a road that is, at best, one and a half lanes wide. In another state of mind, I would probably be sitting as far from the window as possible with fingernails deep in the armrests. Today, everything just continues to feel like magic. About a half an hour later, we are in the parking lot and at the gate. The group looks like a bunch of kids about to enter Disneyland. Kucho is with us. In fact, he is the “official” shaman of Machu Picchu. So we go through security check which is very much like a border patrol station. We actually have to show our passports. And then, once again, it’s time to climb. And we do this for about 20 minutes. There is no vantage point on the trail. You see nothing of the site. At a certain point, Kucho does something that is so brilliant, that if you had any doubts, you now would see why Kucho is “The Man”. He tells us to leave our cameras and all of our packs and bags (and all the stuff that weighs us down and distracts us. Get it???) in a pile where the guide will watch them. Kucho informs us that he knows nothing of the history of Machu Picchu. (HE LIVES HERE AND IS THE OFFICIAL SHAMAN OF THE PLACE!!!!) and if we want to learn about it we can find all we need on the Internet. He tells us that his tour will help us connect with the energy of this sacred site. At that point he asks us to all join hands and close our eyes. Then he instructs us to slowly walk up the path. I have comical visions of lemming tourists walking off a cliff while the clever coyote Shaman thief collects the cameras and takes them to his brother-in-law’s shop for resale. (Considering the possibility that some of you who reading this might be on one of our future trips to Peru, I’m not even going to say what happened after this. All I can say is that there were many tears and no one in the group will ever forget it.)
I was here almost 20 years ago, but I don’t recall Machu Picchu making such a strong impression on me as it is this time around. Kucho walks us through different areas of the site talking about astrology and energy and harmonics in a way that depicts the technologies once used here as highly sophisticated. I am witness to many tears from our group members on this day that this site. And it looks like some major breakthroughs are happening to several of our group members. Sometime in mid-afternoon the clouds break, and the sun comes out. It is a quality of light I have never seen and will never forget. There is a distinctly golden green cast which seems to infuse the area more than actually shine on it. One day here is not going to be enough. Next time, I’ll provide another day so everyone can simply wander.
Bus ride. Long walk. Train ride. Another long bus ride winding through the mountains lit by an almost full moon. Its cold outside. Cuzco. Hotel. Traffic. People. Noise. It’s all very fascinating but I want to stay in my dream. I want to hear that profound silence just a little longer. Fortunately, we go back to the Sacred Valley tomorrow for the tour.
I must say, there are some advantages to being in civilization. The restaurant next door to the hotel provides a gourmet quality meal (with good wine to match) at prices that by US standards are quite reasonable. Still, the sacred Valley has won my heart.
DAY EIGHT: PISAC AND MORE MAGIC
I awaken to the realization that this trip is going by rather quickly. A good sign, I think, but also a reminder to enjoy and appreciate every single moment, every color, every face, every smell, every breathtaking vista, every gust of rarefied air, and everything that resonates with an unmistakable magical silence deep in my soul.
Buffet breakfast and once again time to board the bus. This time we are headed for Pisac, the ruins, the town, the market. The ride is typically glorious. On the way we stop at a llama farm, which turns out to be quite a bit of fun. A guide educates us as to the distinctions between the llama, the alpaca, and the rare and quite expensive vicuna. Here’s a chance to see the sweaters, hats and scarves while they are still moving. We also get to feed the animals. There are weavers in tents with their beautiful wrinkled faces and their even more beautiful children sitting in great sidelight. Excellent photo ops and some high-quality, high-end stuff to buy at the end of the tour.
Soon, we are at trail head that leads through the ruins of Pisac. It’s a great hike on the beautiful mountainside and the ruins are spread throughout various parts of the trail. We don’t actually get to the main site because, I think, it’s too far to hike down in order to get back up with the amount of time we are given. No big deal. We’re having fun and we get the idea. Wildflowers everywhere. Spectacular views of the Sacred Valley. A beautiful breeze. Great company. Life is GOOD!
For a few hours in the afternoon, we are released into the Pisac market, a series of narrow streets densely lined with tented souvenir shops. There are very few people here right now, so I anticipate that we will be the only targets of the sales pitch. Surprisingly, we don’t get this. Either shopkeepers are sleepy from the afternoon sun, or this is just not an aggressive market. Consequently, the shopping experience is a lot of fun. Most Peruvian souvenirs are kitschy, cheesy in fact. (where are they not?) And that is a large part of their charm. Somewhere in the middle of the market, we are guided by Patricia to an outdoor bakery where empanadas and fresh bread is baked in a brick oven. Transit time between oven and mouth is less than a minute and the goods are delicious. There is a striking, strong-featured Peruvian man behind the counter. He looks like he should be in the movies or in a painting. I ask Patricia to ask him if he would “do me the honor of allowing me to take his portrait”. He nods quietly and proceeds to look out in the distance with an expression that can only be described as “proud”. What a face! This guy’s a rock star.
Later in the afternoon and the magic continues. One of the group members expresses an interest in silver jewelry. Our guide is kind enough to set us up with a tour of a local silversmith’s studio.Whoever this guy is, he must be a pro. He sends a vehicle to the hotel to pick us up. When we get there, we are greeted by a young woman dressed in a navy blue suit and a light blue dress shirt. She looks like an airline employee. In a very professional and well-rehearsed manner, she walks us through different stations of creating a piece of this jewelry–from the smelting of silver bars to the final precise lapidary inlay work. Just before we enter the very sizable showroom, a short, dark complected, thick haired man walks in the door, and when he raises his eyes to meet mine, we are both in shock. “Victor, is this your shop?” “Chris, what are you doing in Peru?” Yes, it is Victor’s shop. And yes, Victor is one of the only three or four people I know in this entire country. As it turns out, he was our shaman and guide nearly 20 years ago when I was on a film crew shooting a documentary here. More magic. This is no coincidence. In this frame of mind, it all makes sense. It’s all just magical creation. This is what I consider to be the highest level of creativity: it’s when imagination and the mysterious workings of the world intersect and interact in a way that is undeniable. Along with other talents, Victor is a powerful healer. I’ve seen him at work. So I asked him if he would kindly work on the woman who has been ill much of this trip. He gladly complies, and takes her out in the hallway while the rest of the group checks out the finished pieces in the showroom. Soon, two separate events converge. The first, is a feeding frenzy of our group checking out piece after piece. The energy is high. It’s like the cosmetic counter at Bloomingdale’s during the Christmas rush. The second event is going on in the lobby behind the closed glass door. And this is where Victor is working on our girl and we can clearly hear the sound of her barfing as loud as a roaring lion. The healing process is often powerful and mysterious. I applaud her courage. In the course of an hour and a half, pretty much everyone in the group has bought something, and I just have to pull the plug. But before we leave, Victor is kind enough to work on me. I tell him I’m having neck issues. The energy in his strong hands is powerful and the manipulations he does on my neck feel amazing. When he finishes with me (and i do feel very loved at this point), he leads us to a small room upstairs to show us his “meditation room”. It is a rather large room with all kinds of random sacred objects on the floor, from entire jaguar pelts to lots of things that don’t look much like much of anything. He performs an impromptu blessing for us, and here, once again, we have created a sacred ceremony.
As if the day hasn’t been full enough, before calling it a night we dine in a wonderful, elegant restaurant across the street from the hotel (it was recommended by one of Rick’s Peruvian friends). Everyone is dressed in their best, looks to be in great mood, and on every level, the dinner experience, for me, is a delight. I try the alpaca. Quite good, as far as meat goes. Kind of like elk, but not quite as clean tasting.
DAYS NINE & TEN:
This morning we take a tour of the city which includes a visit to an historic cathedral built right on top of Inca ruins. it fascinates me how remnants of the indigenous culture still weave threads through the colonial architecture, art, and religion. The animism and the reverence for nature, which was the core of Inca spirituality, is still very much alive in the modern Peruvian spirit.
Then we are whisked off to Sacsayhuaman, the sprawling ceremonial grounds that was never completed before the Inca Empire was sacked by the Spaniards. It is a comfortable afternoon stroll around the massive jagged walls with a stunning view of Cusco.
Before we enter the indoor ”San Pedro” central market (now he’s everywhere), Patricia asks us to take every precaution against the possibility of being pick-pocketed. (note: when we returned here without our guide the next day, 3 police officers stopped us and told us to keep our packs in front and watch out for pickpockets. I have to wonder why it is that i actually feel better to see cops on every other corner here, while in the US I feel paranoid in the presence of a lot of police). Apparently, the close quarters around here with people rubbing against each other has made this a haven for such activity. Prior to this trip, I had all but insisted that everyone wear an undergarment money belt each day, so I anticipate a continued perfect safety record. Upon entering, the sounds, smells, colors, shapes are a bit hard to put into adequate words. It’s all kind of kaleidoscopic. Everywhere you turn there are fruits, vegetables, flowers, seeds, nuts, Jell-O, cheese, potatoes, grains, bottled goods, packaged goods, animal parts, ceremonial supplies (including dried llama fetus), things being served, and services being offered. It is a virtual phantasmagoria of Peruvian-osity! I love this place! Its like being inside of the central digestive system of Cusco.
Quite frankly, our last day and a half are a bit of a blur to me. I am neither tired and i am not in the least uninspired. There are still so many things to absorb and enjoy. It’s because I am surrendered. I have done my job and now for the last 36 hours I can relax and just be a “ tourist”. There is a lovely lunch at a place called the “Inca Grill” where I can finally have a Pisco Sour and not worry about what I have to do for the rest of the day. There’s a tour of one of the cathedrals in the square in which the place is so full of paintings, art, sculpture, artifacts, and just stuff, that it reminds me of a massive antique store. When I joke with Patricia about this, she hits me. There is a farewell dinner at a large club with a massive buffet and a stage show of very impressive Peruvian musicians and dancers in dramatic and colorful costumes. There is a long walk down to a very large handicraft market where everyone makes their last souvenir purchases. There’s a final lunch at a brightly lit organic restaurant called “Greens” that’s right off the main square. The food is quite good, but the frozen fresh lemonade is to die for. I get pissed off at our waitress who seems to be burdened and irritated by the job of serving us. I urge everyone in the group not to tip. (Yes, finally, on the 10th day, I have a “moment”. And i DESERVE it!) There’s a Starbucks on the square with beautiful intricate stonework on all the walls and arches, and a great latte handed to me. And… there’s one o’clock. That’s the time the bus came to collect everyone and escort them back to their worlds.
When I look at it from the outside, being the group leader was often a thankless job. The night before we all split up, I gave a talk about the importance of gratitude, about how gratitude keeps “the field” open for more magic to happen. I even suggested on the flight home, when people are in their quiet space, that they send gratitude to all those that made their experience so special. At the farewell dinner, there was no big ”toast to our fearless leader”. And when it came time for our group to say goodbye, three of the eight departing actually thanked me.
On the other hand, I had just witnessed 10 days filled with joy, and smiles, excitement, laughter and growth, breakthroughs and tears, days filled with color and camaraderie and kindness and love and cooperation. This had been the reflection that I received back to myself for following the inspiration to actually orchestrate this trip. I had had bestowed on me so many gifts in the course of this unforgettable journey. There were nine remarkable women, “My Nine Muses” as I called them, constantly mirroring back to me wonder and amazement, innocence, courage and strength, affection and compassion. During the San Pedro journey, I received the gift of the “Divine Mirror” (which would also now be the title of my new work). I received a vision, a confirmation that all the magic that seemed to be happening on the mountainsides, in the eyes and smiles of beautiful strangers, in the delightful and sometimes almost overwhelmingly wonderful orchestration of events (that once appeared to be “out there”), was somehow happening not around me, but through me, in “here”. And the same was true for everyone. Like a song or a photograph or a poem, our lives are created through us, and we are the instruments and the witnesses of the innate and unique compositions that make up our lives.
The common theme to all of this was that I had learned to “hold space”. I had learned to allow and support without judgment or agenda. For 10 days, I was constantly aware that the trip was not about me. The trip was for me. And about and for each of these wonderful beings receiving a part of themselves on a journey where my primary role was to “hold space”- hold space for their safety, their comfort, and their growth, while providing an environment rich in possibility. As for myself, I learned to love me more. I learned to have compassion for the guy who goes through personal struggles all in the name of freeing himself from the illusion of a personal world. For 10 days, I watched him meet everyone eye to eye, constantly checking in on their well-being. I watched him on the trail, looking ahead and behind, counting group members like a father quail counts his chicks as they cross the road. I watched him let go of his need to be anyone for the people who trusted him with their time, their innocence, and their hard-earned money. I found a maturity in him that I’d never seen before. I noticed his satisfaction in witnessing others joy as his own. I noticed his ability experience love simply as an energy and not as the subject or object of that energy. In true love there is no subject or object. And as I watched him hug and thank everyone as they got on the bus to go home, I realized that he had taken a great leap forward now understanding that his gratitude toward the others had become a very direct and now obvious way of appreciating himself.
GROUP RATINGS FROM THIS TRIP (based on the average of 10 participants):
THE TRIP IN GENERAL: 5.2 STARS
CHRIS AS GROUP LEADER: 4.8 STARS (hey, it was my first time…)
PROMPTNESS/EFFICIENCY: 4.9 STARS
LEVEL OF FEELING SAFE: 5 STARS
LEVEL OF FEELING SUPPORTED: 5 STARS
LEVEL OF FEELING LOVED: 5 STARS